“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai . . .” Jonah 1:1
The word of the LORD.
The story doesn’t begin with Jonah. It begins with the very word of the LORD.
The role of the Lord’s word
The same God who spoke creation into being now is speaking yet again. Throughout the entire book of Jonah, you’ll see God speaking several times, here at the beginning, then again when he speaks to the great fish, and even the last word of the book is again, the word of the Lord. So this book begins and ends with God’s authoritative word.
Before you read any further answer this one question, “What role does the word of God play in my life? Truly?” Is it your highest authority? An occasional book you consult in times of crisis? Or is it just a book of good myths at best? Where you begin is critical. Your presupposition to the text really counts.
Past fidelity, present obedience
Jonah was actually already a national hero prior to his calling to go to Nineveh. Go read in 2 Kings 14. There we learn that Jonah had been a prophet with great success. Now God comes again to his faithful servant. But is he going to be faithful this time?
If you’re familiar with the story, you know how it turns out. As one pastor told me the other day, “Fear is the opposite of faith.” And fear is exactly what sets into Jonah’s heart and sends him straight to the whale’s belly.
Here’s something to consider: maybe you’ve been faithful to God in the past, but past fidelity does not guarantee present obedience. It didn’t in Jonah’s case.
Peace from a ‘dove’
Jonah’s name means “dove.” This isn’t the first or last time we see doves in the Bible.
In Genesis, after the great flood, Noah sent out a dove that collected an olive branch and flew back to the boat, symbolizing that the waters were subsiding and there was peace to be had after the floods. Then in the New Testament, at Jesus’ baptism, we see the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove, representing peace be with the one with whom God is well-pleased. Then right here in the middle of biblical history, we have a rogue prophet who bears the name that means “dove.”
Why would God choose to use a man bearing a name that represents peace? Because the city Nineveh was headed for great destruction under God’s judgment, and would ultimately be separated from God’s peace forever. Jonah was going to be God’s instrument of peace for his enemies, something that foreshadows Jesus bringing eternal peace to those who were once his enemies.
We as Christians, instead of growing weary from relying on our own wavering hearts, must seek to boast only in the cross—the finished work and word of Jesus.